The Measure of Success, Revisited

Last week I gave you some information off the top of my head that I’d gathered over the years.  Some of it wasn’t correct, so I did some research.  Here’s what I learned:

Joni Evans, a former executive vice president at Random House said in an interview that, “Only 10 percent of the books published by any house earn out their advance.”

For large publishers of romance (Avon, Ballentine, Bantam, Berkley, Grand Central, St. Martins, Harlequin, Dorchester, Kensington) the average advance for a first book is $10,300.  The median advance (as many authors got more as got less) for a first book is about $7000.  These figures are an average of the average advances and median advances anonymously self-reported to Brenda Hiatt over a ten year period.  I also averaged the first advances for all the Harlequin imprints and used that figure ($4000).  Had I used each imprint’s figure separately, the overall numbers would likely have been lower.)  The numbers vary from  $1000 (Avalon, Medallion) to $40,000 (Ballentine).

78% of titles are small press or self-published.

Non-fiction outsells fiction 2 to 1.

The average POD tiltle sells 75 copies.  (This number varies according to the source.  I’ve also seen 100 – 150 copies.  I’ll say again that I wish there was a way to separate the performance of books produced as a hobby from those produced as a serious business venture.)

Fifty-two percent of books are not sold in bookstores.  They’re sold by mail order, online, from discount warehouses, book clubs, and non-traditional stores (like gift shops).

Of 300 booksellers surveyed (half from chain stores, half from indies) 75% said the look and design of a book cover is most important.

The average time a customer spends looking at a cover is 8 seconds.  They’ll look at the back cover for 15 seconds.

There are 6 large publishers (Random House, Inc., Penguin Putnam Inc., HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, Time Warner, Simon & Schuster, Inc.) Four are foreign owned.  There are 300 – 400 medium size publishers, and around 86,000 small or self-publishers.

35% of Amazon’s book sales are via Kindle.

Sources (always consider the source when evaluating information):

Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money

Small Publishers Association of North America

Dan Poynter’s ParaPublishing

Book Statistics

Self Publishing Resources

How Publishing Really Works

Social Media Revolution

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom an Marily Ross


Filed under writing

4 responses to “The Measure of Success, Revisited

  1. Thank you for compiling these figures and for posting all the sources you used!

    Several of the findings surprised me, such as 35% of Amazon’s books sales are via Kindle. That’s a larger percentage than I imagined, and since statistics are always crunched down stream, I suspect that number may have grown larger over the last few months, especially since the price of the Kindle was reduced significantly.

    The biggest shock was finding out small press and self-published being 78% of all titles. That’s astounding. I also had no idea how low the average earn out really was. 10% is far lower than I had assumed. Regardless of which path you take to publishing, that’s not an encouraging statistic, but since I suspect the Random House exec was speaking more of print, that might be another reason digital is growing so quickly.

    The advance figures were not much of a surprise since being in the RWA the last 10 years I had heard, anecdotally, that the average advance for romance was $1-3K. In any case, very eye-opening data — thank you for sharing it!

    • Remember that the data about Kindle sales was from a YouTube video. Amazon is notoriously closed mouth about its sales statistics, so I don’t know how to cross-reference this. Another figure I’ve heard is that digital sales currently are about 5 – 8 % of book sales, but that industry insiders expect that to grow to 20 -25% by the end of 2012. Given that Amazon currently dominates online sales of books, I’m not sure if the 35% figure jibes with the other numbers. Nevertheless, we CAN say that digital sales are a growing market segment.

      • Agreed, Amazon has been guarded, except to say at a press conference that “millions of people now own a Kindle,” which could mean 2 million or 10. One good analyst source to consider for estimatino purposes is Forrester Research. They estimated in January of this year in Bloomberg Businessweek article that Kindle sales were at 2.5 million for 2009. The analyst also indicates he’s considering raising his expected estimate of total sales of the Kindle and other single-purpose e-book readers in 2010 to 7 million, from his previous estimate of 6 million. That’s a good percentage of growth if he’s correct. You can read the details in the article here. If he is right, sales should be pretty hefty this year. I know I’m planning to ask my Santa for a Kindle this year, since the prices have recently dropped. 🙂

      • Let the e-reader price wars commence! As prices come down, sales go up, creating a widening market. Yay!

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